Archives for thriller

Book review: Afterlight

The setting for Afterlight by Alex Scarrow is the UK, ten years after the oil ran out. It is a sequel to Last Light but can be read as a standalone novel. Like the first, it is a moreish thriller with the touch of frightening reality. After the oil crash there were riots, looting, murder and rape. Beacon communities were established, safe zones which eventually became unsafe. Now, only two remain. This is the story of what happens to them as survival and recovery phases into rebuilding and re-establishment of democratic government. Scarrow recalls some of the main characters from the first novel – Jenny Sutherland and her two children – and introduces new people. There are flashbacks to the oil crisis which shows events from different viewpoints. Ultimately, this is a story of Them and Us which does at times seem stereotyped. Jenny now runs a community of 400+ living on an abandoned oil and gas rig in the North Sea off the Norfolk coast. There are rumblings of discontent with the strict rules, then a mysterious Belgian stranger arrives and a young girl goes missing. This story is interwoven with that of Adam Brooks, a former RAF officer,
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Helen J Christmas

Today I’m delighted to welcome thriller novelist Helen J Christmas. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Camellia by Leslie Pearse. “I started this book in 1998 during a very wet Glastonbury Festival; I remember curling up in my sleeping bag, feeling utterly miserable as the rain splashed around the campsite. Yet from the very first page I was quickly absorbed in the story. Set in my home county of Sussex, the saga begins with a young girl who is orphaned at 15, when her mother is discovered drowned. Camellia is an unhappy, neglected child, yet her security is ripped away when she stumbles across a secret hoard of letters among her mother’s belongings. After realising her entire childhood has been based on lies, she takes off to London to start a new life. Beautifully written with powerful story lines, Camellia is as much a ‘coming of age’ story as a romantic drama. At the start of the book, she is an overweight teenager but blossoms into a glamorous young woman. Caught up in the sizzling 60s of London, her life turns into a roller coaster. She is abandoned by a controlling drug dealer boyfriend, but discovers a loyal friend who becomes
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Little Deaths

This is another of those novels which is an uncomfortable read. What kept me reading? The characters. I wanted to know what really happened. But of course this is fiction and characters don’t always tell the truth, only their version of the truth. Little Deaths by Emma Flint is an accomplished debut, as I read I could tell she had got under the skin of her characters. There is an intriguing set-up, we first hear Ruth’s voice. She is in prison. We don’t know why, but she compares her life now with her life before. When she was a single mum with two small children. As I read, I felt a shiver down my back: where are her children now? Starting the story with Ruth in prison surely gives away the ending, doesn’t it? Not really. This is a nuanced tale of trial by jury in 1960s America [though until the Sixties were mentioned, it seemed to be set in a curiously non-time specific period] where prejudices about women could wrongly influence outcomes, where social pre-conceptions coloured witness statements, and hearsay evidence seemed admissible if the accused was disliked. It is a tale of presumed guilt, and it should make
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Good Me Bad Me

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land is a difficult book to review without giving anything away. It is compulsive, difficult reading, and though I raced through it I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it. Teenager Annie is living with a foster family whilst waiting to give evidence at her mother’s trial. Her mother is accused of being a serial killer of children, Annie turned her in to the police. As she waits for the trial, Annie [now called Milly] is coached by her foster father on how to handle being in court and giving evidence under cross-examination. For Milly, there is no escaping her horrible childhood. As Mike tells her, the only way out is through. But Milly isn’t telling Mike everything. Milly’s identity is secret, her name false, her reason for being fostered is fabricated. In this world of officially-approved lies, Milly must face her memories of what happened: what is real, and not-real. What did her mother really do? What did Milly do? At times of stress – and there are many as she fits into a foster family with an unwelcoming teenage daughter – Milly hears the voice of her mother in her head, encouraging her
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Beginnings

A teenager abandoned and at the mercy of a 1970s London gang, Eleanor Chapman is the ‘same face’ in the romantic thriller series ‘Same Face Different Place’ by Helen J Christmas. London’s East End is the starting point for the first novel, Beginnings. Eleanor’s father must disappear from England after killing in a man in a gang war. Sixteen-year-old Eleanor is taken under the wing of her father’s boss, gang leader Sammie Maxwell. And from that point, her life spirals out of control. Forced to work in a brothel, she escapes and joins up with another teenager-on-the-run, Dutch musician Jake. Together they attract the attention of organised crime gangs and the police. Unsure who is really chasing them, they run from hiding place to hiding place and lose the ability to judge who is trustworthy. Sharing their fears, spending every minute together, Jake and Eleanor live on borrowed time. They fall in love. At times the story takes surprising twists, sometimes the outcomes are a little more predictable. I found it a little difficult to keep track of how time was passing, they seem to fall in love very quickly, and it will be interesting to see if Eleanor’s father
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Thin Air

1935, the Himalayas. A team arrives in Darjeeling, in preparation for climbing Kanchenjunga. A retired climber, who attempted the same climb, warns the team’s doctor to cancel the climb, or take another route. And so begins Thin Air by Michelle Paver, a tale balancing the power of nature, the vulnerability of man’s minds, and the toxic mix of superstition and arrogance. Is the retired climber right, is there something bad out there? If so, what? Can the past come back to haunt you? No-one has stood on the very peak of Kanchenjunga, the locals believe it is bad luck to do so. At her website, Michelle Paver writes about her expeditions – she travels extensively to research her novels – and it shows that she has been there. Throw into the mix some bitter sibling rivalry, class snobbishness and Sherpa superstitions, and you have an atmospheric thriller which makes you really feel you are there, with them, stranded in a tent in a Himalayan blizzard. Billed by some as a ghost story, this is more an account of psychological terror: as the mountaineers climb higher, the tension tightens. Is their bitching, sniping and forgetfulness a symptom of altitude sickness? Is
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Categories: Book Love.

Book preview: The Whistler

This is the first time I’ve written a preview of an unpublished book of which I have read only the first four chapters. The exception is because the author is John Grisham. I’ve learned a lot about writing from Grisham’s early books, he is a master of building tension, a master of the slow-burn. I’m a fan, right back to A Time to Kill, The Firm and The Pelican Brief. So does The Whistler stand tall beside my favourites? Truth is, it’s difficult to say. I haven’t read chapter five yet. Grisham has never been an author to start with a wham-bang first chapter. He introduces characters and backgrounds, both essential in legal thrillers. And that’s what he does with The Whistler. But what I read made me want to read it all. The classic Grisham elements are there. The setting is Florida where those who help the state to recover illegally acquired assets get a big payout. The protagonist is Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. She is a lawyer, not a policewoman. Into Lacy’s ordinary world walks Greg Myers, a dodgy lawyer with an assumed name. He has a client, a whistleblower willing
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Don’t You Cry

This novel explores how easy it is to make assumptions and how this guesswork is so often wrong. This is the third novel by Mary Kubica, all thoughtful mysteries, carefully written and detailed. It took me longer to get into this one, but Kubica spends time drawing the characters and I was prepared to go along with her. There are two narrators. In Chicago, Quinn’s roommate disappears. After a couple of days waiting for Esther to return and wondering if she has done anything to upset her, Quinn starts to poke around looking for answers. The first things she finds are confusing, they contradict the Esther she knows, or thinks she knows. And then she starts to wonder what Esther is hiding. Quinn’s voice is alternated with Alex, a young man who lives in the small town where he grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan. He is a nice guy, who passed up on college for a boring low-paid in a rundown lakeside café so he can care for his drunken father. He takes lunch to Ingrid, a housebound elderly lady and stays to eat with her, and to play cards. One day, he goes to work and
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Pretty Baby

Don’t be fooled by the cover photograph, this is not a thriller about trains. Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica is a psychological tale of parenting, grief, abuse, and husbands and wives who stop communicating and stop interacting. At times I had to take a gulp and accept some situations which seemed unrealistic to me, it was either that or put the book down. Heidi and Chris live with their daughter Zoe in Chicago. One freezing wintery day, running for a train, Heidi spots a homeless girl with a baby. She hesitates, wondering whether to say something, and then the girl is gone. Wishing she had helped, Heidi looks out for the girl the next day… and takes her home. Zoe sees it as an invasion of her space, Chris worries about who the girl – Willow, with baby Ruby – really is, and whether she poses a threat to his family and property. Both are right to be worried. At times I grew impatient with Heidi for indulging herself and impatient for Chris to show some intuition and see what was really going on. Unfortunately Chris is a bit of a stereotype, the hard-working banker husband who spends more time
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Farm

This book by Tom Rob Smith is the best thriller I’ve read this year, one of those ‘who do I believe?’ scenarios. It’s an ordinary day for Daniel until his mobile rings. It’s his father. “Your mother’s sick… She’s not well… She’s been imagining things.” His mother is in hospital, he says, she’s been committed. As Daniel prepares to fly to Sweden where his parents live, his father calls again; his mother is missing. His mobile rings again, it is his mother. She says his father is lying. Who to believe? And so starts The Farm, a book which questions the parent/sibling relationship, lies told within the family, and how far a family can be stretched before it breaks. It is a story of a Swedish woman and her English husband retiring to a farm in rural Sweden, looking for a new start, an active retirement, anticipating being part of a close-knit community. Tilde arrives in London and tells Daniel that his father is lying. She is not ill, she is in danger, she has discovered crimes, lies, irregularities. At all times she carries an old leather satchel which she says is full of evidence. Who to believe? Life on
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Bone Church

This was a difficult story to get into for me, which surprised me. The premise by Victoria Dougherty seems so good – Czechoslovakia, wartime, fugitive lovers, a faked religious icon, and a plot to assassinate Josef Goebbels – the promise of which kept me reading. But I found the time shifts, the point of view shifts, and the way the action changed from paragraph to paragraph quite confusing. Assuming this was a formatting issue with my Kindle copy, I kept reading. The story starts in Rome in 1956 in the Vatican City with a Cardinal and a man called Felix. Then we see Magdalena and her son Ales in Czechoslovakia, a man arrives and takes away her son. Then the action switched to 1943, as Felix and Magdalena are on the run in Prague. He is a famous hockey player, a celebrity, she is a Jew. By this point, the story should have gripped me but I’m afraid it didn’t, I hadn’t read enough about the two characters to care. I think my basic problem is the way the story was told, not the actual story itself; the writing is rich with description and the author certainly knows her history. Halfway
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Disclaimer

Catherine moves house and finds a novel which she can’t remember buying. But this is no ordinary book. It pretends to be fiction, but Catherine recognises herself as one of the characters and the story discloses a secret. “A secret she has told no-one, not even her husband and son – two people who think they know her better than anyone else.” So, Disclaimer by Renee Knight includes a novel-within-a-novel. This novel explores how one secret, hidden and almost forgotten, can re-emerge 20 years later to do damage. But it is also a warning about the danger of making assumptions without all the facts. The reader makes assumptions, Catherine’s husband makes assumptions, and the writer of the novel makes assumptions. Nothing is what it seems, in the tradition of good thrillers, and this book will make you believe first one version of the truth, and then another. Which is the real one? Is Catherine a good mother, or a bad mother? If you like ‘Disclaimer’, try:- ‘The Returned’ by Jason Mott ‘Girl Runner’ by Carrie Snyder ‘The Lightning Tree’ by Emily Woof ‘Disclaimer’ by Renee Knight [UK: Harper] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS
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Categories: Book Love.

How Paula Hawkins writes

Paula Hawkins “The set-up is often the fun part. You can set up all these scenarios and all these red herrings, but drawing all those strands into a believable conclusion is actually incredibly difficult to do in a way that isn’t hackneyed… It’s a really hard thing to make that final fifth a convincing ending.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, October 31, 2014] The Girl on the Train is a fantastic thriller, but I think there is a misconception that only the writers of thrillers worry about laying clues and red herrings. All novels need storylines which tease the reader to keep reading, to turn the page, to read one chapter more before turning the light out. Laying clues about characters, their past, their secrets, their betrayals, hopes and dreams, can be as complicated as plotting a thriller. Perhaps the clues are not as dramatic as in a thriller, but still there needs to be a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to follow. Read my review of The Girl on the Train. For more about the film of the book, and Paula Hawkins’ second thriller, click here. See how these other novelists write:- Hanya Yanagihara Anne Tyler
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Girl on the Train

This book has been hyped much in the pre-publicity and I can understand why. After a slowish start, I finished it at a sprint and rarely put it down. The girl on the train in The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, is a voyeur, she watches people in their houses. On her morning commute, her train regularly stops at a red light and she looks at a house and ponders the perfect life of the people who live there. She is fantasising, you think, and then you realise she isn’t. She knows the people. Or does she? You never know where you are with Rachel’s account of what happens, she is the ultimate unreliable narrator. The problem is she is a drunk, a falling-over, hungover woman who swigs alcohol on the train and suffers memory blackouts. At no point do you know whether to believe her version of the truth. She says, “I wonder where it started, my decline; I wonder at what point I could have halted it.” In contrast to Rachel, there is Megan, the woman who lives in the house by the railway. She seems a more reliable source of information, or is she? She
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Jax Miller  Debut author Jax Miller has signed a two-book deal with HarperFiction. The first, Freedom’s Child, will be published in summer 2015. It tells the story of Freedom, a woman who has spent 18 years living under the Witness Protection programme after murdering her husband. When the daughter she gave birth to in prison, and gave up for adoption, goes missing, Freedom is determined to find her child. The deal also includes a second un-named title. Miller was born and grew up in New York but now lives in Ireland. Under her real name, Aine O’ Domhnaill, she was shortlisted for the CWA debut dagger for unpublished writers in 2013. Follow Jax Miller on Twitter at @JaxMillerAuthor Kirsty Logan  The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan will be published by Harvill Secker in Spring 2015. Described as a combination of Angela Carter and Michael Faber, Logan writes in the magical realism tradition. In The Gracekeepers, North and her bear live on a circus boat, floating between the scattered archipelagoes that are all that remains of the land. To survive, the circus must perform for the few fortunate islanders in return for food and supplies. Meanwhile, in the middle of the ocean, Callanish
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Sarah Hall The Wolf Border, the latest novel from Sarah Hall, one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists 2013, will be published by Faber in April 2015 and by Harper Press in the US. Set against a background of political tumult – Scottish independence, land reform, and power struggles – The Wolf Border investigates the fundamental nature of wilderness and wildness, both animal and human. It explores our concepts of ecology and evolution, re-wilding projects and the challenges faced by modern rural landscapes. Faber Social’s creative director, Lee Brackstone, said: “Sarah Hall [above] is rightly thought to be one of the most original literary talents of her generation and each new book confirms and builds on the promise of her great early novels. The Wolf Border is a novel with enormous narrative and contemporary urgency. In some ways it marks a return to the world of her first novel, Haweswater, but here is a writer in full maturity, at the top of her game.” For Sarah Hall’s website, click here. Renee Knight Disclaimer, the debut psychological thriller by Faber Academy alumnus Knight, is to be published by Transworld in Spring 2015 as hardback and paperback a year later. How would
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Corners of the Globe

Very fast-moving sequel by Robert Goddard with a Scotland to London train chase complete with spies, a captured German warship, murder, kidnapping, secret codes and jumping on and off trains which would rival The 39 Steps [which Goddard playfully has one of his characters read in the restaurant car of one of the trains]. The first book in ‘The Wide World’ series by Robert Goddard [below] left me wanting more, and I turned straight to The Corners of the Globe to continue the story. A plane flight from Spain to the UK and a stint in the doctor’s waiting room ensured that I flew through it. You really do need to read book one first [see the link below for my review], although there is a little exposition at the beginning in the form of a Secret Service report, but to be honest it functions more as a recap for the reader who has read the first book than as an introduction for a newcomer. Goddard is a consummate storyteller and sells millions of books worldwide, the majority of his books have made the UK’s Sunday Times Top 10 Bestsellers lists. I failed to guess the ending of the first book, did I
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Good Girl

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica starts with a missing girl, woman really, though we first hear the news of the disappearance of Mia Dennett from her mother’s point of view. And to her mother, Mia is still a girl though she is a schoolteacher. Detective Gabe Hoffman is bemused that Mia’s parents don’t seem to visit their daughter’s apartment. And then, the time shifts and it is after Mia’s return and we are with Mia and her parents on the way to psychiatrist. Amnesia. Mia cannot remember what happened. And so the story is pieced together. Mia’s kidnap is told from multiple viewpoints; before, during and after the event over a winter in Chicago. Everyone in this dysfunctional family seems to have their own agenda. But Mia cannot remember what happened in that cabin where she was held captive by a man called Owen for three months. The setting of the Minnesota cabin in winter is so clearly drawn I could be there, a mixture of beautiful, intimidating and claustrophobic. The eerie quiet, the ice fishing, the extreme cold. The feeling of being trapped, in more ways than one. Mary Kubica handles the transition of the kidnap relationship so
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Ways of the World

I was a fan as soon as I read Robert Goddard’s first novel, Past Caring, published in 1986. He is a hard-working author, producing regular novels, and I admit I got out of the habit of buying them. Until The Corners of the Globe. I started reading, realised it was part two of a series, and promptly ordered book one on Kindle, the quickest way of getting it. The Ways of the World didn’t let me down, not for nothing is Robert Goddard called ‘the king of the triple-cross’. In buying the book, I inadvertently read the reviews on Amazon, something I always try to avoid if I plan to review a book on my blog. I’d rather make up my own mind. Some of the reviews were mixed but I have to say I didn’t find this slow-going at all, perhaps it can be explained by the fact that this is the first of a series and therefore the plotting is intricate. The first book in a series must always include a fair amount of ‘setting-up’, what Christopher Vogler calls ‘The Ordinary World’. Perhaps the reviewer who thought the book slow-going didn’t get beyond that Ordinary World. Goddard, though,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Gone Girl

I feel like the last person to read this book by Gillian Flynn. I don’t know why I didn’t read it earlier, I like clever thrillers, but somehow I just didn’t get around to it. I was partly put off by the range of reviews of Amazon, I must admit, from 5 stars to 2 stars. This is definitely a Marmite book: love it or hate it. But then the publicity for the film started and I always like to read the book before I see the film, so… I got it from the library. Gone Girl is about the fracturing of a five-year old marriage. We get both points of view: Nick the husband, Amy the wife. Basically one day, Amy disappears. There are signs of a struggle in the house. Nick goes predictably quickly from being lost husband to prime suspect. I have to admit. I did not like Amy from page one of her diary, her language is so OTT and flowery. “I am fat with love! Husky with ardor! Morbidly obese with devotion! A happy, busy bumblebee of marital enthusiasm.” Ugh. Neither was I overly keen on Nick, I guess overall I found it overwritten and
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Categories: Book Love.